Anderson Cooper held firm at Democratic debate

The CNN Democratic debate in 2 minutes
The CNN Democratic debate in 2 minutes

CNN's Anderson Cooper received widespread praise on Tuesday night for his handling of the inaugural Democratic primary debate.

Throughout the two-and-a-half-hour contest, Cooper asked pointed questions and forced candidates to address the issues at hand rather than allowing them to drift off topic. "With all due respect..." and "You didn't answer the question" were frequent refrains, and -- with few exceptions -- they worked.

Cooper began the debate asking Hillary Clinton if she was guilty of changing her positions based on political expediency. When the frontrunner pivoted to general remarks about raising wages for the middle class, Cooper interrupted: "With all due respect, the question is really about political expediency," he said. "Do you change your political identity based on who you're talking to?"

The CNN anchor gave the same treatment to Bernie Sanders when he failed to clarify when he would authorize the use of American military force: "Sen. Sanders, you didn't answer the question. When would you authorize force?" he said.

Related: Democratic debate live stream outdraws GOP debate

Cooper also continued to pursue questions about Clinton's State Department email controversy even after Sanders had come to Clinton's aid and dismissed it as an issue -- a moment that was one of the most memorable in the debate.

"I know that plays well in this room," Cooper said, "but a lot of people do want to know these answers."

democratic debate Anderson cooper

Cooper was not without his critics. Chief among them was Jim Webb, the former Virginia senator, who felt the moderator hadn't given him enough time.

"I've been trying to get in this conversation for about 10 minutes," Webb told Cooper after being called upon to answer a question. When Cooper later told Webb that he had hit his time limit, Webb shot back: "You've let a lot of people go over their time."

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But even then Cooper was deft at tempering potential conflict: "You agreed to the debate rules," he told Webb.

CNN's handling of the debate generally also came in for some criticism, particularly in its decision to have an African-American host (Don Lemon) do the lead-in for a question about Black Lives Matter and the Hispanic host, Juan Carlos Lopez, ask a question about Hispanics.

"If Don Lemon can only ask about black people and Juan Carlos Lopez can only ask about Hispanics, Wolf Blitzer only gets to ask about wolves," David Itzkoff, a New York Times culture reporter tweeted.

"Why is @CNN profiling its reporters?" Jamal Simmons, a political analyst and commentator wrote. "For the record, black +Latino reporters can talk abt the economy +foreign policy, not just #BlackLivesMatter and #Immigration."

But for the most part, Cooper and his CNN colleagues managed to keep the debate focused. Clinton and Sanders received the most speaking time -- around 30 minutes each -- reflecting their higher standing in the polls. O'Malley and Webb received about 15 minutes, while Lincoln Chaffee came in last with less than 10 minutes.

(CNNMoney is part of CNN digital.)

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